The sixth European Union (EU)-African Union (AU) summit that took place 17- 18 February 2022 in Brussels, Belgium was, according to its organisers, a turning point for a renewed Partnership. Among the issues at stake was the strengthening of the bilateral collaboration to address the multiple challenges of biodiversity conservation and climate change in Africa. Despite commendable declarations and extensive media coverage, however, the summit did not herald the envisaged new partnership of equals, or do much for biodiversity, the climate or vulnerable people.
- EU first: Held every three years since 2000, the Summit has become a staple of the relationship between Africa and the EU, allowing political leaders to agree joint priorities and actions. But this edition again failed to deliver on several fronts, including on the biodiversity and climate commitments towards Africa embedded in the European Green Deal.
Notably, announcements about the aid and investment that should flow to Africa (about 150 billion Euros) are not derived from the list of priorities that the AU and African civil society have drawn up for themselves. They aim mainly to support interventions that serve the EU’s interests in the areas of security, migration, access to critical natural resources, and curbing the global influence of China and Russia.
- The energy and carbon obsession: Ambition on climate action is limited to energy transition and green transition, including support for implementing the national plans of African countries under the Paris Agreement. Disregard for the fact that the continent is already on the frontline of the impact of climate change – despite having contributed almost nothing to the problem – is simply not good enough. African civil society and their EU partners are asking that “African lands are not seen as carbon assets intended to offset the emissions of the main polluters – States and companies – under the cover of potential carbon credits which will only result in increased financialization of nature”. Beyond promises, allocation of money also matters. Of the US$ 100 billion per year pledge, confirmed in Paris, only a fraction has been delivered – and this came with concerns around transparency and impact on local communities and Indigenous groups.
- Little progress on biodiversity: Commitments to biodiversity protection were desperately vague. Civil Society Organisations were eager to hear that the Europe would address the human rights abuses and land dispossession that too often accompany conservation initiatives, and would foster bottom-up approaches, increasing the resilience of community and Indigenous Peoples conservation programmes. Instead, regarding how the EU and AU would protect biodiversity: radio silence. The summit failed even to mention NaturAfrica, the EU’s new flagship initiative to protect wildlife and ecosystems in Africa.
- New EU regulatory measures to combat deforestation were not mentioned, although these initiatives could constitute a considerable step forward in global environmental governance, and a bold opportunity to minimise the EU’s negative impacts on people and the planet. Summit participants could have discussed how to encourage political buy-in from partner countries, and explained how such measures uphold respect for human rights and the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities , and strengthens existing commitments, such as the Voluntary Partnership Agreements to improve forest governance and fight illegal logging.
- Local livelihoods matter: The AU and EU leaders pointed to the importance of sustainable growth – again missing the opportunity to detail what this means for people’s livelihoods and needs. The summit could have asked the EU Farm to Fork strategy, the agriculture component of the European Green Deal, to promote an effective, fair, much-needed global transition to inclusive, sustainable agri-food systems, demanding transition that is not detrimental to small-scale producers and farmers, in the EU or in developing countries.
EU and African politicians pledged to work together to promote stronger multilateralism, but this must ensure meaningful engagement from civil society. It is time for the EU and AU to move away from the economic and geopolitical interests of the powerful to build a truly “people-centred partnership”.